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Reading: The Fabulous Riverboat

This image comes from the picture used for the cover, so if you wanted to you could click through to see it free of any words, logos or other designs.

The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book Number: 352

This is the second book in the series but I don’t own the first and decided not to purchase a new book for a series I couldn’t be sure I’d want to read. It didn’t feel too much like being thrust into a story that was already under way, with the book’s protagonist, Samuel Clemens (more commonly known as Mark Twain), briefly explaining things that need recapping but not in the form of massive infodumps that feel like book recaps.

The Riverworld (named for the massive river that dominates the planet) is far from a paradise, being a place where all humans (including certain races of pre-humans) are resurrected on this strange new world, permanently young, given devices to supply them with food and drink and resurrected in a new location upon death. Various leaders and warlords on Earth have formed their own nations along the River and invade others. Slavery is rife, people taken prisoner and kept alive so their captors can use their grails (the food devices). Of course, death isn’t permanent here but still means the ‘deceased’ could be resurrected at any other point along the River, forever separated from their former life.

Even Sam, protagonist of the story, is not universally a force for good. His Riverboat project – building a huge paddleboat to travel to the River’s source and find the beings who created this world – devastates the land in the nation they form to acquire the resources needed to construct the boat, and they build powerful weapons no other nation can and trade them to those other nations in exchange for more resources. The region becomes dominated by war, either because of those worried or envious of the Riverboat project or simply because Sam has given them enough weapons to dominate their neighbours. Through it all Sam can justify it because he wants his boat, and is given enough hints to suggest this could be one of the most important projects currently under way on the Riverworld.

Sometimes the dialogue seemed a little off, Sam in particular saying things that seemed to stall conversations or randomly insult people, and there’s not really much of him that would seem to explain why Farmer chose to have Mark Twain be the protagonist. I like the concept behind the setting, which allows for odd pairings and scenarios, such as King John (in some ways the main antagonist of the book) getting into a war with the nephew he murdered back on Earth, or Sam’s best friend being a massive Neanderthal. People from different periods are all flung together seemingly at random and have to try and work around their prejudices or the lack of knowledge of technologies that were developed after their deaths.

While I enjoyed it I don’t see myself picking up the third novel (which I don’t own), and will be content to just jump into the fourth at some point (for some reason I own books two, four and five of the series).

View all my reviews

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